Thor Halvorssen writes:
Maryam al-Khawaja took the stage at the Oslo Freedom Forum last Tuesday and stunned the audience with her experiences of government violence in the Kingdom of Bahrain. She described the killing of student protestors, the torture of democracy advocates, and how human rights defenders are “disappeared.” Maryam also detailed how troops from a neighboring dictatorship, Saudi Arabia, rushed into Bahrain to prop up the crown prince’s regime.
Ali Abdulemam, a renowned Bahraini blogger, was also invited to the Oslo Freedom Forum. Ali was imprisoned by his government in September 2010 for “spreading false information.” After being released on February 23, he enthusiastically accepted his speaking invitation and plans were made for his travel. And then he disappeared. No one has seen or heard from him since March 18.
Beyond disappearing bloggers and rights activists, Bahrain also tries to disappear criticism. The government has been aided by a coterie of “reputation management” experts, including professionals from the Washington, D.C., offices of Qorvis Communications and the Potomac Square Group, in addition to Bell Pottinger out of their offices in London and Bahrain.
Within minutes of Maryam’s speech (streamed live online) the global Bahraini PR machine went into dramatic overdrive. A tightly organized ring of Twitter accounts began to unleash hundreds of tweets accusing Maryam of being an extremist, a liar, and a servant of Iran. Simultaneously, the Oslo Freedom Forum’s email account was bombarded with messages, all crudely made from a simple template, arguing that Maryam al-Khawaja is an enemy of the Bahraini people and a “traitor.” Most of the U.S.-based fake tweeting, fake blogging (flogging), and online manipulation is carried out from inside Qorvis Communication’s “Geo-Political Solutions” division.
Rupert Wingfield Hayes writes:
Ask anybody who has experienced torture and they will tell you that almost everybody breaks in the end.
And one of the most effective ways of making someone sign a confession is to stop them sleeping.
In China, I once met a man who had confessed to killing his own wife after being kept awake by police for 10 days and nights.
His wife was alive.
So what the wife of one of the doctors in Bahrain told me was all the more disturbing.
In a brief meeting outside the court, her husband had told her he had been blindfolded and handcuffed, and forced to stand up for three weeks.
Forcing someone to stand does not sound like torture, but that is exactly why it is so effective.
Back in my hotel room, I trawled the internet and BBC archive for video of the men I had seen in the dock that morning.
It did not take long. There they were on the BBC and al-Jazeera speaking out passionately, as wounded protesters were rushed into the emergency room behind them.
One of the doctors, a softly spoken man called Ali Al Akri, struggled to hold back tears as he pleaded with the government to stop the killing, to stop shooting the protesters.
In court, the prosecutor had called Ali Al Akri the main ringleader of the doctors’ conspiracy.
He did not look like a ringleader to me. Passionate, angry, distraught, yes. The leader of an anti-government coup? No.
His real crime was to have spoken out to us, the foreign media. To have told the outside world what was going on inside his hospital. Of the effects of buckshot and tear gas. To show X-rays of high-velocity bullets embedded in protesters’ bodies.
They were images that brought shame and international opprobrium upon friendly, liberal, sophisticated Bahrain.
And it is for that, that the Bahrain doctors are now being punished.
As the world now turns its attention to more pressing stories – in Libya, Syria and beyond – there is a real danger that the Bahrain doctors will be forgotten and that the Bahrain authorities will be quietly allowed to get on with persecuting those who dared to stand up and to speak out.